“Hey!” Newt Tollerude – in his shirtsleeves and sweating with a box under each arm – sidles down the aisle toward us. He’s got us cut off from the back exit where the bikes are stashed. “I’m going to charge you boys a penny a page if you’re not buying those magazines.”
“Come on!” I drop the unopened comics on the magazine rack and take off down another aisle toward the front exit. Leonard is right behind me. We hit the open end at a run and I have to swerve to avoid crashing into a wire-caged fan on a wooden box stand.
Jason Tollerude, the shop owner’s son, has a group of older boys gathered around at the pinball machine by the door. I dodge around the fan but slip, crashing instead into the hard, angled edges of the pinball game.
For an instant I have the undivided attention of Jason and his gang. Then Jason’s gaze lifts and I hear Leonard slide to a stop behind me.
Jason is a lot taller than me even when I’m not knocked flat on my backside. Like Leonard, he’s going into his senior year at Mavis High. He’s not as sturdy as Leonard, but he’s taller. Almost as tall as his dad who is cursing from the back of the store.
Jason says, “You need to keep your little pet on a leash, Bateman.”
With no more warning than that, Jason lashes out with a foot. It catches me in the gut and my stomach muscles cramp up so much that I can’t even take in a breath.
“Come on, Simon.” Leonard tries to help me, but I’m not waiting for a hand up. I’m already scrabbling like a crab toward the open door.
“Your cousin cost me a game, Leonard.”
“Sorry,” I wheeze the word, but I’m just a freshman and I’m new to Mavis. Jason is focused only on Leonard. But then we’re out the door and running. The wind hits us, dry and filled with grit.
Something ricochets off the concrete. I look back to see the older boys piling out of the store behind us. Jason picks up another stone from where the weather has worked it loose from the worn concrete sidewalk. He winds up to throw again and I surprise myself with a laugh that sounds crazed, even to my own ears.
But I’m not a bulletproof super like Dauntless or Hellproof. And my bike is behind the drugstore with Leonard’s. Getting away from Jason and Newt Tollerude is all I care about.
Leonard follows me blindly, so I keep my legs pumping in time with the flat-footed slap of his feet. We pelt toward the old depot like its boarded-up windows are the sanctuary of a church. But before I can cross the street, the familiar nose of a blue and white Chevy creeps up to the corner.